The proposed fur ban in Rhode Island has been defeated. The bill, HB7361/SB246, which, if passed, would have banned the…
The proposed fur ban in Rhode Island has been defeated. The bill, HB7361/SB246, which, if passed, would have banned the…
In his 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, social and cultural psychologist…
In his 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, social and cultural psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains why people hold such wildly differing beliefs and why others’ views seem so illogical. Understanding his arguments may be key to reversing the decline in support for various animal uses seen in urbanised societies, and ensuring industries such as the fur trade still have a future.
Ethics (morality) is about the way in which people want to act. Ethics invite us to do the right thing. That there is not always agreement about what is right in a particular case, as for example using animals for food or fur, is due to the fact that morality is partly innate, and partly learned and influenced by the environment (urban or rural) in which someone grows up.
SEE ALSO: Is it ethical to wear fur? Truth About Fur.
According to recent analyses, our ethical behaviour is based on a matrix of six moral modules that have arisen in our brains during our evolution. The trapper in the North, the cattle farmer in the countryside, and the animal activist in the city centre of a Western country, all have a moral vision based on a moral matrix formed by these six universal modules in their brains.
Every society builds its own moral matrix because its moral values, claims, and institutions rest differently on each of the six moral foundations. The moral matrix built in the brain of young people in a hunting culture will be different from those in an agricultural culture, or in a modern industrialized culture where most people live in cities completely distanced from nature. That is why our judgment of whether something is good or bad is partly connected with the human and world vision presented in our environment. The differences in sensitivity to the various six moral matrices explain the different moral visions that individuals take on certain social issues within the same society.
This moral matrix in our brain produces quick, automatic gut reactions of sympathy or disgust when certain things are observed. These then lead to a judgment as to whether something is good or bad. First comes the feeling, then comes the reasoning.
Haidt describes this by using the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant represents our automatic intuitions. This is about 99% of our mental world, the part that has been around for a very long time where the automatic processing of information, including emotions and intuition, happens. Evolutionarily speaking, the rider has only recently joined.
When Homo sapiens developed the capacity for language and reason during the last 600,000 years, the automatic processing circuits in our brains didn’t suddenly stop and allow themselves to be taken over by reason. This ensures the controlled processing of information and our “Reason why something is good or bad”. The rider reasons afterwards about what the elephant felt.
The rider (the language-based reasoning) acts as the elephant’s spokesperson, and is very good in making post hoc justifications for everything the elephant has felt. Within a fraction of a second of us seeing or hearing something, our elephant already starts to lean in a certain direction, and this tilt to a particular side influences what we think and say next. By leaning to one side, the rider has little or no interest in the other side of the story. After all, his function is not to find the truth, but to seek arguments to explain why the elephant leans to one side.
The metaphor of the elephant (automatic intuition) and its rider (reasoning), stating that the rider is at the service of the elephant, does not mean that we never question our intuitive judgments. The main reason we can change our minds about moral issues is through interaction with other people. After all, while we are very bad at finding evidence that undermines our own beliefs, others are happy to do this for us, just as we are quite good at finding fault with the reasoning and beliefs of others.
If we want other people to be open to our side of the story, we must first tilt their elephant to the other side. This is not possible by using rational arguments alone. We must look for something emotional, something that acts on their gut feeling, that makes their elephants lean to our side and opens their minds to our arguments. Animal activists, like all populists, are very strong on responding to the gut feeling of the people and make sure that the elephant leans to the side they want. Lies and deceit are not shunned by these people. Just think of the notorious staged video, in 2005, of a raccoon dog being skinned alive for its fur.
The animal-use sector has a much harder time appealing to people’s gut feelings. In an urbanized society, more and more people are developing a moral matrix that is intuitively negative for this sector, in large part because of propaganda from animal activists. The fur trade, for example, has endured this negative propaganda for fully 40 years. The impact of this propaganda on the general public can be explained in the same way as advertising: tell someone a thousand times that food X is healthy, and after a while he or she will be intuitively convinced of that fact. Therefore, it will be vital for the fur trade to find that emotional gateway to open the elephant to our arguments.
Fur checks all the boxes: production is sustainable, animal welfare standards are high, businesses are small and artisanal, and the end product is natural, long-lasting and biodegradable! But as long as we cannot hit the gut feeling of the general public growing up in the city, our rational arguments will fail.
What Are the Six Moral Modules, and Which One Guides the Animal Rights Movement?
Jonathan Haidt summarises his six moral modules as follows:
“1. The care/harm foundation: evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need.
“2. The fairness/cheating foundation: evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us want to see cheaters punished and good citizens rewarded in proportion to their needs.
“3. The loyalty/betrayal foundation: evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions. It makes us trust people that are team players and hurt those who betray us or our group.
“4. The authority/subversion foundation: evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank and status and to signs of other people behaving or not behaving properly, given their position.
“5. The sanctity/degradation foundation: evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore’s dilemma, and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites. It makes it possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values which are important for binding groups together.
“6. The liberty/oppression foundation which makes people notice and resent signs of attempted domination. It triggers an urge to band together to resist or overthrow bullies and tyrants.”
Since the sensitivity to each of these six moral modules is not the same for everyone, everyone possesses their personal intuitive moral matrix. For example, there are people who are extra sensitive to the caring/harm, fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression foundation, but usually little sensitive to the loyalty/betrayals, the authority/subversion and the sanctity/degradation foundation. There are also those who have a more spread sensitivity on all six moral foundations, and whose sensitivity for the first three foundations is less pronounced as compared to the first group.
There are also people whose moral matrix is triggered on almost only one module. These then become moral extremists who have a principled ethic. The convinced animal activist is such a person. Everything is reduced to one principle and everything else is irrelevant in their eyes.
The ideologically driven animal activist has a very pronounced sensitivity to the liberty/oppression foundation and not, as we might expect at first sight, to the care/harm foundation. The latter is the case with people who are committed more to animal welfare and who believe that people should be allowed to use animals for human purposes.
SEE ALSO: Animal welfare vs. animal rights: An important distinction. Truth About Fur.
In the first sentence of the introduction to his 1975 book Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, Australian philosopher Peter Singer writes: “This book is about the tyranny of humans over animals.” Further in his introduction, he states that he “does not feel any love for animals”, but that he wants to end oppression and exploitation, wherever they may occur.
The animal rights activist plays with the general public on their care/harm foundation but their own motivation is the liberty/oppression foundation and their goal is therefore an end to the use of animals for human purposes, not animal welfare. Animal welfare is just the lubricant used by this movement to help it in its attempt to force its moral vision and way of life upon us.
The strength of this animal rights movement is the moral conviction that they are fighting a right fight.
However history shows that moral convictions can have enormous practical consequences. A recent example is Marxism. Marxists saw their beliefs not merely as personal views, but as absolutely certain scientific knowledge. Their socialism thus became “inevitable” and they had the future on their side, as it were. “History is on our side,” they liked to say. Their enormous self-confidence made them very intolerant of dissenters. Seventy years after Karl Marx’s death, about a third of humanity lived under regimes that called themselves “Marxist”. Instead of the expected ideal and just society, Marxist rule produced poverty and tyranny. When it became clear that the facts did not agree with Marx’s theories, so-called “revisionism” arose. Several Marxist thinkers tried to match Marx’s theories with the facts — and the facts with Marx’s theories.
Marxism was a stunning phenomenon because its ideas triumphed while on a practical level it failed permanently and the societies it spawned collapsed or eventually turned away from their Marxist policies.
In this area I see parallels with the animal rights movement and its leaders. They are also firmly convinced that they are right, and regard animal rights as a logical historical extension of rights for ethnic minorities and women, although this comparison does not hold. They also claim that acceptance of animal rights is “inevitable”; it is only a matter of time before anyone who disagrees sees the error of their ways. They also claim that their ideology is scientifically substantiated. And they, too, often adopt an intolerant attitude towards philosophies of life that do not fit their needs. Their views on animal rights are not open to discussion. The appearance of being open to collaborating with others is only part of a deliberate strategy to create a society free of all animal use.
The animal rights movement calls its own principled statement – that animals have the right to be left alone and live freely and undisturbed – the only morally correct position. To live up to this statement, it must curb the freedom of the human animal. Freedom of choice, inherent in being human, must be limited by law to the choice of those who claim to defend the freedom of all animals!
Wanting to apply the principle of moral equality also to beings who have no morality leads to absurd situations and takes us far from reality. It is very easy to point to an animal from a privileged situation and say, “We are not going to use that anymore”, but all things considered, such a method is worthless.
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The Israeli Government recently announced that permits for the importation, fabrication or sale of fur will no longer be issued,…
The Israeli Government recently announced that permits for the importation, fabrication or sale of fur will no longer be issued, except for religious, scientific, or educational purposes. In short, the fur business will be effectively banned by regulation, by-passing the normal legislative process that was tried -- and failed -- a decade ago. This short-circuiting of due process is justified because banning fur is a moral issue, claims Minister of Environmental Protection Gila Gamliel. "Utilizing the skin and fur of wildlife for the fashion industry is immoral,” she insists. But she's so wrong.
What does it mean to say that using fur – or any other animal product -- is “immoral”? Some of the best research into public attitudes about using animals was done by the Canadian Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing. Based on opinion polling in six Western democracies (the UK, France, Germany, Norway, Canada, and the US), the Commission determined that four criteria must be met for animal use to be considered morally acceptable. Let’s see how the modern fur trade measures up to these four criteria:
For animal use to be considered morally acceptable, it must not threaten the survival of the species. So it’s important to know that all the fur used today comes from abundant populations, and never from endangered species.
Eighty percent of fur is produced on farms, so there's no threat to wildlife there.
The remaining 20% -- the wild fur trade -- is strictly regulated in North America by states and provinces, and internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. These laws and regulations ensure we are using only part of the surplus that nature produces each year, because beavers, muskrats, martens, raccoons, and other furbearers produce more young than their habitat can support to adulthood.
The regulated fur trade is, in fact, an excellent example of “the responsible and sustainable use of renewable natural resources”, as promoted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
2. Animal Welfare
The second criterion for moral acceptability is that the animals we use should suffer as little stress or pain as possible. The modern fur trade takes this responsibility very seriously.
In Canada, mink and fox farmers follow codes of practice developed under the auspices of the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), with veterinarians, animal scientists, and animal-welfare authorities. Other countries have similar production codes, and farmers have every reason to follow them, because the only way to produce high-quality fur is to provide optimal nutrition, housing, and care.
Animal welfare is also a priority in the wild fur trade: Canada has been a world-leader in humane trapping research and innovation since the 1970s. This research, coordinated by the Fur Institute of Canada, has resulted in improved trapping systems, trapper training, and regulations, and the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards.
Activist claims about fur animals being “skinned alive” or otherwise mistreated have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked.
3. Important Use
A third moral criterion revealed by the Royal Commission is that animals should not be killed for “frivolous purposes”. This argument is at the core of much anti-fur campaigning, and is echoed by Gamliel in her assertion that it is immoral to kill animals “for fashion”.
Gamliel conveniently ignores the fact that animal-rights activists now openly oppose any use of animals, even for food. But to address the point at hand, humans have to wear something, and there is nothing frivolous about our need for long-lasting, eco-responsible clothing.
The fake furs and other synthetics promoted by animal activists are usually made from petroleum, a polluting, greenhouse gas-producing, non-renewable and non-biodegradable material. We now also know that these synthetics (which represent 80% of our clothing) leach nano-particles of plastic into our waterways each time they are washed, plastics that are now being found in the digestive tracts of marine life and even our drinking water. Cruelty-free indeed!
Fur, by contrast, is a long-lasting, renewable, recyclable, and ultimately biodegradable natural clothing material. So wearing fur is not so frivolous after all, especially at a time when we are trying to develop more sustainable lifestyles.
4. Complete Use
The fourth criterion for moral acceptability is that when an animal is killed to benefit humans, there should be no waste. This is why most people - animal-rightists excepted - consider it morally acceptable to use leather, because it’s the envelope that dinner came in. We ate the meat, so why not wear the skin?
All too often, however, people fail to understand that fur also respects this "no waste" principle.
In fact, farmed mink and fox help to reduce waste in our food production system, by consuming the parts of cows, chickens, pigs, and fish that humans don't eat. Furthermore, the manure, soiled straw bedding, and carcasses of farmed mink and fox are composted to produce organic fertilizer, returning nutrients to the soil and completing the agricultural cycle.
Meanwhile, beavers, muskrats and other wild furbearers provide food for trappers and their families, or are returned to the bush to feed other animals through the long, cold winter. Nothing is wasted.
If Minister Gamliel were to honestly apply the criteria above, she would have to acknowledge that the modern, well-regulated fur trade is as morally responsible as other commonly accepted uses of animals in our society, for food, clothing and other purposes.
And there are other serious problems with her "immorality" argument.
In North America (and other regions) where wild furbearers actually abound, populations have to be managed whether we use the fur or not. Overpopulated beavers flood farmland, roads, and homes; raccoons and foxes become more susceptible to rabies and other dangerous diseases; coyotes prey on livestock and are now taking pets in urban areas; and the list goes on. But if some of these animals must be culled to protect property and health, is it "immoral" to use their furs? Quite the opposite, in fact. The immoral deed would be to throw those furs away.
Meanwhile, Gamliel faces some moral dilemmas on her own doorstep, because her proposed ban would exempt furs used for “religious purposes”. Obviously her intent here is to neutralize opposition from ultra-orthodox coalition partners, whose haredi men wear large fur hats, or shtreimels, on the Sabbath and other Holy Days. But these hats don't reflect any true religious practice; actually, they are rooted in 17th-century Eastern European fashion. Gamliel's exemption is driven solely by political expediency. So much for moral imperatives!
Then there's the inconvenient fact that the sacred Torah – the very heart of Judaism – is written on parchment, which is an animal pelt with the hair scraped off. Similarly, the prayers scrolled inside the mezuzot that grace every door of a Jewish house are also written on animal hides.
But what of the Jewish doctrine of bal tashchit – “do not destroy”, which is often cited by animal activists in Israel? In fact, bal tashchit is derived from a commandment in the Torah to not destroy fruit trees outside the walls of a city under siege. It is a recognition that people will need food, no matter who wins, and is one of the world’s first written environmental protection laws. It promotes responsible use and sustainability. But it certainly does not command us to abstain from using animals to meet human needs.
The Politics of Morality
In light of all the above, it is clear that Gamliel's proposal to ban fur has nothing to do with morality. Rather, it is just politically expedient virtue-signalling to curry favour with Israel's strong animal-rights lobby, while the financial cost is born by farmers and trappers half a world away.
Apart from streimmels, there is little fur trading in Israel, which is why international animal-rights groups have identified it as an easy target, a thin edge of the wedge. But if one country should understand the dangers of embracing calls for scapegoating and ostracizing the fur trade, it is Israel, which itself is targeted by the militant Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) on university campuses around the world – often the same people who campaign against the fur trade!
No one is obliged to wear fur – or leather or wool, or to eat meat or dairy. Everyone is entitled to draw their own line concerning the appropriate use of animals, so long as sustainability and animal welfare concerns are respected. What cannot be justified in a modern democracy are political bans aimed at imposing one group's views on everyone else.
When a ban on fur trading was last proposed in Israel, ten years ago, I testified before a Knesset committee hearing on behalf of the International Fur Federation. I reminded the committee members that animal-rights activists also campaign against kosher slaughter in many European countries, in concert with anti-semitic hate groups. I also reminded them that Jews -- including my own family -- have played a prominent role in the international fur trade, and that anti-fur campaigns have sometimes included anti-semitic innuendos.
The turning point in the committee meeting, however, came when the chairman read from a letter received that morning from then Canadian Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan. Van Loan reminded the committee that Canada has always been a loyal friend and ally of Israel, and that the regulated fur trade supports the livelihoods and cultures of thousands of First Nations and other Canadians, especially in rural and remote regions. The governments of Denmark, Greece, the US, and the EU also expressed concern at a proposal that would scapegoat a responsibly regulated and sustainable industry. Suddenly, there was a political cost to banning fur. The proposal was quietly dropped.
This time around, Gamliel hopes to side-step the legislative process and ban fur trading with a simple regulatory change, a much quicker procedure. It is important that people who support the fur trade and consumer freedom again call on their own governments to intervene, to put some balance into this discussion. (See, below)
Let me conclude with a last word about shtreimels. While there’s no theological basis to the tradition of donning these splendid sable-trimmed hats, haredi men often say that the beauty and craftsmanship of a shtreimel show respect both for the Sabbath and for the animals that were used to make it. Fur apparel is, in fact, a marriage of the beauty of nature with human creativity. Wearing fur should remind all of us of our dependence on nature, and of our responsibility to protect it. If we wear fur with this consciousness, it becomes a moral act. The Israeli Minister’s cynical proposal to ban fur most certainly is not.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It is unclear how quickly the regulatory change proposed to ban most fur trading in Israel can be implemented, but it is likely that only international diplomatic pressure can stop it. Ask your government to express concern about this arbitrary and anti-ecological ban. The following links may help.
Embassy of Canada in Israel
Embassy of Israel in Canada
Find your Canadian Member of Parliament
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau email: [email protected]
Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe.Champagne email: [email protected]
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
Your idea of what makes a current event important may differ from mine, but occasionally a story comes along that…
Your idea of what makes a current event important may differ from mine, but occasionally a story comes along that grabs everyone's attention. Enter coronavirus COVID-19. At the time of writing, some 6,000 people have already died, and that number is sure to rise - a lot. And if fears of a global recession to follow prove founded, billions of us will be negatively impacted. Millions already have been.
In short, it's the kind of event that makes people rethink their priorities. The price of potatoes suddenly seems inconsequential, and we may even put our favourite advocacies on hold. Who has the time to complain about white people wearing dreadlocks or mansplaining when lives are on the line?
And that's why I predict a small silver lining for the fur trade amidst the current catastrophe. In the coming year, there will be no major campaigns launched by animal rights groups in North America - or if there are, they will be roundly ignored. I also believe this lull will provide an opportunity for us to regroup and rethink our strategy after taking some tough knocks in 2019.
Last year was hardly quiet on the news front, but unless you lived in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Myanmar, or quite a few other places to be honest, the news was unlikely to kill you. Climate change advanced apace, but even the most pessimistic of forecasters think we can still turn it around. The refugee crisis in Europe worsened further, but it barely affects North Americans. The Hong Kong riots grabbed headlines for a few months, but the Western media lost interest when China failed to invade. And everyone was sick to death of Brexit years before it even happened.
So it was against this backdrop of a "normal" news year that campaigns to ban fur retail sales in California and New York City were able to gain traction. Politicians could posture before potential voters, the media lapped up a polarising issue as they always do, and advocates could focus fully on either saving or destroying an industry.
SEE ALSO: There's no justification for banning the sale of fur. By Alan Herscovici.
But now the whole news landscape has changed, and, in just the last few weeks, been turned on its head.
For me, the change began with the Australian bushfires. It took a few months for them to register on the international radar, but when they did, we were appalled to see the extent of the devastation and loss of life. It was also a huge shot in the arm for the climate change campaign.
Then for a few days in January, while the bushfires were still at their peak, we seemed to be staring down the barrel of World War III. The US assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, Iran vowed to retaliate, Trump vowed to retaliate back harder, Iran fired missiles, and bizarrely the situation was only defused when Iran "accidentally" shot down a civilian airliner with no Americans on board but loads of Canadians. All very scary.
So the transition from 2019 to 2020 was a rollercoaster ride. And just when you thought it couldn't get any hairier, along came a pandemic.
I don't need to tell you the details of COVID-19 because, unless you live under a rock, you know them already. Suffice to say, this story will hog the headlines for the next several months at least, with new life being breathed into it every time a famous person falls ill or a major public event is cancelled. And even after a vaccine is found, the global recession that some experts are predicting will keep copywriters busy for years.
So what does all this have to do with the great fur debate?
Well, I predict that life will change in myriad ways, one of which will be a resetting of priorities, not just at the government level but also at the personal level. Even more emphasis than before will be placed on cooperation on issues that really matter to the global community, while less time and effort will be spent on issues that are, in the grand scheme of things, unimportant.
It goes without saying that the world will emerge from this better prepared to face the next pandemic. Climate change will continue to garner great interest, in tandem with sustainable living. And it's way past time for governments to be held accountable for perpetuating war in Syria, Yemen, and anywhere else faced with this ultimate scourge.
In contrast, I believe, people wanting to "make a difference" will be less inclined to expend energy on petty and divisive issues to which there are no solutions anyway because there's no "right" or "wrong". When human lives and the future of the planet are at stake, there are surely better ways to spend your time than campaigning against smoking in public parks.
OK, so there's some wishful thinking on my part that this change will last, but I do believe that at least for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, animal rights groups will have a hard time getting anyone's attention, and might as well take a vacation. Remember, you heard it here first. For as long as the pandemic lasts, there will be no new initiatives launched to ban fur retail.
It's a simple matter of priorities. In quiet times, on the domestic front anyway, politicians obsess with pandering to any demographic group they think might help get them re-elected. But in a time of coronavirus, their focus must be on keeping their constituents alive. In quiet times, news desk editors lap up a PETA stunt, particularly if half-naked women are involved. But with coronavirus running amok, they're smart enough to know that their audience has no time for anything else. And as for the public, they're far too busy stockpiling toilet paper (I still can't see how that helps) to worry about whether Canada Goose is opening a new store for its coyote-trimmed parkas.
SEE ALSO: Five reasons PETA won't make me ditch my Canada Goose. By Alan Herscovici.
This new reality will provide an opportunity - or at least a time-out - for all animal users to regroup and strengthen our message in preparation for the time when animal rights groups think it's business as usual again.
We already have a formidable arsenal of arguments in our favour, dealing with issues that are important to a growing number of people. We can effectively argue sustainability, ethics, cultural heritage, jobs, wildlife management, and more. I believe that post-coronavirus, the world will be more discerning about which messages it listens to, and we just have to be more effective at getting ours across.
Don't get me wrong about absolute priorities. There's a potentially lethal pandemic under way, and nothing is more important than staying safe. And that goes for everyone - even animal rights extremists! But when the smoke clears, there may be a rare opportunity here for the fur trade to change the narrative.
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The following essay appeared recently in the Toronto Star (Canada’s largest circulation newspaper), as the pro-fur side of a debate…
The following essay appeared recently in the Toronto Star (Canada’s largest circulation newspaper), as the pro-fur side of a debate on whether banning the sale of fur apparel and accessories is justifiable.
If we look at facts, those of us who care about the environment, ethical lifestyles, and social justice should promote natural fur, not seek to ban it. Let's review some of the reasons why wearing fur makes sense for anyone wishing to embrace a sustainable and responsible way of living.
Fur today is produced responsibly and sustainably. Only abundant furs are used, never endangered species. This is assured by provincial/state, federal and international regulations.
In the wild, most species produce more offspring than their habitat can support to maturity. Animals that don’t make it feed others, and we too can use part of this natural surplus. This is an excellent example of “the sustainable use of renewable natural resources”, a cornerstone of the World Conservation Strategy.
There is little waste. Many fur animals – especially beavers and muskrats -- provide food for trappers and their families. Others are returned to the woods to feed birds, mice, and other animals. And because fur is “prime” in late Fall/Winter when the young of the year are already autonomous, activist claims that coyotes or other animals leave behind “starving pups” are nonsense.
Many furbearers would be culled even if we didn’t use fur. Overpopulated beavers flood property. Coyotes are top predators of lambs, calves and, increasingly, pets. Raccoons and foxes spread rabies and other diseases ... the list goes on. But if we must cull some of these animals to maintain a balance, surely it is more ethical to use the fur than to throw it away?
SEE ALSO: Reasons we trap. Truth About Fur website.
Trappers take animal-welfare responsibilities very seriously: Canada is the world leader in humane trapping research, and traps are certified to conform with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards. Trapping is also strictly regulated in the US, under state “Best Practices” provisions.
Fur farmers – producing more than half the fur in North America -- follow codes of practice to ensure their animals receive excellent nutrition and care. Farms are certified to confirm that codes are followed, and farmers may be charged for animal cruelty if they are not. In any case, providing proper care is the only way to produce high-quality fur.
Farmed mink recycle left-overs from our own food production – parts of cows, chickens and fish that we don’t eat and might otherwise clog landfills. Manure, straw bedding, and other farm wastes are composted to produce high-quality organic fertilizer, completing the agricultural nutrient cycle.
In contrast to mass-produced “fast fashion”, each fur garment or accessory is crafted individually by artisans, maintaining skills passed from father to son or daughter. Furs are preserved (“dressed”) using alum salts, lanolin, and other benign chemicals; the activist claim that “a World Bank report cited fur dressing as polluting” is simply not true. Furthermore, furs come in a wide range of natural colours, minimizing the need for dyes.
Fur is long-lasting, recyclable, and after decades of service can be thrown into the garden compost. Compare that with fake fur and other synthetics: generally made from petrochemicals, they are not biodegradable and leach micro-particles of plastic into our waterways when washed -- plastics that are now being found in marine life. Cruelty-free indeed!
SEE ALSO: The great fur burial. Truth About Fur proves that fur biodegrades.
Fur, however, is the activists’ designated scapegoat. Perhaps because fur is often associated with glamour and wealth? But most fur producers are not wealthy or glamorous. The ugly lies parroted by anti-fur activists are all the more odious because they attack the integrity and livelihoods of hard-working farm families; of First Nations and other trappers who are among the last people maintaining our North American land-based heritage; and of artisans producing warm and durable clothing with responsibly produced natural materials.
There is little public discussion of how insulting and hurtful activist lies are for the people involved. Living far from media centres, their voices are rarely heard. TruthAboutFur.com was created to help bridge that gap.
No one is obliged to wear fur, but each of us should have the right to make this decision for ourselves. Especially because animal activists now oppose any use of animals. The same misleading and insulting arguments and tactics used against fur are now being mustered against wearing leather, silk and wool; against eating meat or dairy products. Shall all these products be banned as well?
Each of us can decide where we draw the line, these are personal choices. But if you believe it’s ethical to use animal products that are produced responsibly and sustainably, you can wear fur with pride.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
City’s Fur Ban an “Unconstitutional Attack on Consumer Rights” The International Fur Federation (IFF) has launched litigation to prevent San…
City’s Fur Ban an “Unconstitutional Attack on Consumer Rights”
The International Fur Federation (IFF) has launched litigation to prevent San Francisco from implementing a city ordinance banning the sale of fur. The ordinance, passed in 2018, gave existing department stores until Jan. 1, 2020, to sell off their remaining fur stock and prohibits the sale of newly manufactured fur coats, hats, gloves, fur-trimmed parkas, and other products.
The lawsuit, filed on January 13, argues San Francisco has “no legitimate local interest to ban fur sales” and that the ordinance is an “unconstitutional restriction on interstate and foreign commerce”.
“In an attempt to legislate morality, Supervisor Katy Tang, sponsor of the ban, stated that businesses ‘need to get with the times.’ Yet the current times do not allow for ignoring the Constitution’s prohibition on restraining interstate commerce,” said Mike Brown, the IFF’s CEO for North America.
“Proponents of San Francisco’s fur ban, including the radical animal rights group PETA, also want the sale of leather, wool, and other animal products to be banned,” said Brown.
Contrary to San Francisco city council claims, fur products remain popular with consumers in that city and nationwide. Fur sales in San Francisco alone are estimated to be $40 million annually. Globally, the fur industry is a $23 billion business. A 2019 Gallup poll also confirmed that a majority of Americans believe that it is morally acceptable to wear fur.
While fur producers worldwide are complying with the humane standards under the IFF’s new FurMark program, San Francisco’s fur ban is so extreme that it blocks even humanely certified products. FurMark is a certification program to provide consumers with assurance about animal welfare and sustainability standards in place for the production of fur products in North America and Europe.
The San Francisco fur ban is completely arbitrary and creates a troubling precedent for other responsibly produced animal products. “If this law is allowed to stand, there’s nothing stopping San Francisco from banning wool, leather, meat, or other products that a small group of activists don’t approve of,” said Mark Oaten, CEO of the IFF.
“Californians should have no fewer rights than residents of other states. They should be free to buy legally produced goods unless there is a public safety or health issue - which does not exist here,” said Oaten.
Counter-Productive in Fight Against Pollution
Along with harming local businesses, San Francisco’s fur ban will have unintended consequences that damage California’s efforts to fight pollution, because the “fake fur” alternatives to natural fur are made with petroleum. Research is showing that these synthetics shed microfibers into the waterways when they are cleaned. Plastic microfibers are now even being found in marine life. A single garment can shed 100,000 microfibers in the wash.
“Plastic microfibers are a leading cause of ocean pollution, in San Francisco Bay and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The National Science Foundation recently announced that microplastics may be 1 million times more prevalent than previously estimated,” said Oaten.
SEE ALSO: Global Campaign Highlights Benefits of Real Fur Over Plastic Fake Fur. Truth About Fur.
California Faces Flurry of Legal Challenges
The IFF lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal challenges to California’s attempt to legislate “morality”. The state of Louisiana and a coalition of members of the alligator/crocodile supply chain have sued California over its ban on alligator and crocodile products, which was slated to take effect Jan. 1. As a result, a temporary stay was imposed on the implementation of this ban.
Recently, California was also sued by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council over the state’s sweeping ban on the sale of conventionally produced pork products, legislation slated to take effect in 2022. Litigation against California’s foie gras ban is also ongoing in federal court.
The fur industry’s legal challenge zeroes in on the constitutionality of state and municipal fur bans in California under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. Additionally, legal experts believe US states cannot arbitrarily ban products from foreign countries from being sold under free-trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The IFF lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Los Angeles and the California state legislature also passed fur bans in 2019, but they do not take effect for several years.
“California’s fur bans are an arbitrary assault on consumer choice and retail businesses," said Brown. "These laws ban a responsibly and legally produced natural product from the marketplace simply because certain special interests don’t like the product. This is a startling precedent, to impose the morality of specific groups onto all citizens. There is no legitimate issue of public health and safety behind fur bans - simply a belief by some lawmakers that they don’t like fur, and therefore no one should be allowed to buy it."
SEE ALSO: 6 Reasons Why Banning Fur Sales Is a Very Bad Idea. Truth About Fur.
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Recent proposals to ban the sale of fur in several US cities and states are based on a fiction –…
Recent proposals to ban the sale of fur in several US cities and states are based on a fiction – a dangerous fiction – the origins of which can be traced back more than 30,000 years. That’s when, as Yuval Noah Harari recounts in his popular book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a remarkable mutation occurred in the brains of one of the six human-like species that then existed. That mutation, scientists speculate, allowed our ancestors to do something no animal had ever done: live in an imaginary world.
To understand the importance of this breakthrough, consider money, nations, and human rights, to name just a few vital elements of our civilization. Unlike rocks, trees and other things we see around us, these important concepts exist only because we believe in them and act accordingly. Money, for example, has value only because we all agree that it does -- so people will give us stuff for it.
The ability to act as if such “fictions” really exist is central to what makes us human. It gives sense to our lives and allows us to work together in large groups for common purposes. But our fictions can also lead us seriously astray: think of Nazism or Communism. Both promised a better life but delivered only misery, not least because they were based on erroneous ideas about humanity: Aryans are not a superior race, and central planning is not efficient. A similar disconnect with reality lies at the heart of recent proposals to ban the sale of fur products in certain US cities and states. Let’s take a closer look.
Justifications for Banning Fur
There are only two possible justifications for banning fur. The first would be if fur were not produced responsibly. Most of us believe that it is morally acceptable to use animals for food and other purposes so long as species are not depleted (sustainability) and the animals are raised and killed with as little suffering as possible (animal welfare). As documented throughout the TruthAboutFur website, the modern fur trade satisfies these moral requirements: both wild and farmed furs are now produced at least as responsibly and sustainably as other animals we use for food, leather and other purposes. *
But if fur is produced responsibly, the only remaining rationale for banning it would be to claim that any killing of animals is wrong. This idea has been elaborated over the past forty years by Peter Singer, Tom Regan and other “animal rights” philosophers. Simply put, they argue that the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of “non-human animals” deserve the same respect as those of humans. Just as discrimination against people of colour is now denounced as Racism, and discrimination against women is rejected as Sexism, Animal Rights philosophers propose that using animals for food, clothing or other purposes should be condemned as “Speciesism”. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk famously charged: “There's no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” **
At first glance, this proposal can seem compelling. Just as the idea of extending rights to all races, classes and genders (Human Rights) was once scoffed at, Animal Rights philosophers argue that it is time to extend our moral circle to include all animals. But all social and moral constructs are not created equal. Human Rights is a highly functional “fiction” because human society is clearly strengthened when each member feels that their personal rights and needs are secured. Animal Rights offers no such benefits.
Animal Rights is, in fact, completely out of synch with how the natural world really works. Like it or not, life eats life. Animals only survive by eating other living organisms, plants or other animals. But animals do not usually eat members of their own species. Contrary to the claims of animal rightists, there’s nothing arbitrary or hypocritical about humans eating other animals but not (usually) each other.
The evolutionary logic for not killing members of your own species is evident, especially for humans. If you kill me, my kids come for you, then your kids come for my family, and on it goes – not very conducive to social cooperation or stability. Killing and eating other species provokes no such complications.
Problems with Animal Rights Logic
Most worrisome, the logic of Animal Rights may actually threaten human (and animal) welfare. Activists argue that no one needs real fur anymore because fake fur provides a “cruelty-free” alternative. But fake furs (and most other synthetics) are made from petrochemicals that are not renewable or biodegradable. New research reveals that these materials also leach micro-particles of plastic into our waterways and marine life each time they are washed. Cruelty-free indeed!
By contrast, using fur in a well-regulated fashion is fully compatible with an ecological (i.e., ethical) relationship with nature. Farmed fur animals are fed left-overs from our own food production, the parts of pigs, chickens and fish that we don’t eat and would otherwise clog landfills. Fur farm wastes – manure, soiled straw bedding and carcasses – are composted to produce organic fertilizers, renewing the fertility of the soil and completing the agricultural nutrient cycle. There is no natural farming system that does not include animals.
The production of wild furs is also based on ecological principles: most wildlife species produce more young each year than their habitat can support to adulthood. The sustainable use of this natural surplus is promoted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other conservation authorities. In fact, many wildlife populations would have to be culled even if we didn’t use fur, e.g., to prevent damage to property (flooding caused by beaver dams), to protect livestock (coyote predation), and to control the spread of dangerous diseases (rabies in overpopulated raccoons).
Living Outside Natural Reality
All this was clear so long as most North Americans still had family on the land who understood the realities of nature. But now, for the first time in human history, most people live in cities. When your food comes from supermarkets, while animals dance and sing on your TV screen, and the live animals you know are surrogate children that sleep in your bed, it is easy to believe the killing of animals is as morally reprehensible as abusing human rights.
Due to our highly developed brains, we all live to a certain extent outside the biological-natural reality. All legislation is a human construct, and different societal “fictions” constantly compete for public acceptance. Animal Rights activists have been very adept at using sensationalist tactics to convey their stories through both traditional and powerful new social media. As PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk says: “We’re complete media sluts; we didn’t invent the game but we learned to play it!” But stories that win mass appeal do not always end well if they are not grounded in reality.
Animal Rights seems to some to represent a more gentle relationship with nature at a time when pollution and the spectre of global warming are exposing the dangers of rampant consumerism. But as this brief analysis suggests, basing public policy on the ideas promoted by Animal Rights advocates can have unexpected consequences. The Nazis’ fascination with Animal Rights will be the subject of a future essay. For now, suffice to say that encouraging the use of petroleum-based synthetics is not the way to protect our planet for future generations. Using natural, renewable, long-lasting and biodegradable materials like fur makes environmental sense. Politicians take note.
* In addition to sustainability and animal welfare, two further requirements for ethical animal use could be proposed: animals should not be killed for frivolous purposes, and most of the animal should be used (no waste). For a fuller discussion, see The Ethics of Fur, TruthAboutFur.
** While the Animal Rights philosophy opposes any use of animals, fur is often seen as an easy target; no city or state is proposing to ban the sale of meat or dairy products. Note, however, that Peter Singer, the intellectual godfather of the Animal Rights movement, wrote in his 1975 landmark book Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, that it is hypocritical to criticize fur-wearing while most people are still eating meat, which requires the killing of far greater numbers of animals.
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The most important rule for fashion brands is to stay relevant, so it comes as no surprise that fashion brands…
The most important rule for fashion brands is to stay relevant, so it comes as no surprise that fashion brands are often in the eye of many social and political media storms. From questions surrounding traceability, sustainability and animal welfare, to issues about environmental impact, exploitation, consumerism and waste, the fashion industry isn’t in short supply of concerns. In fact, a surplus of issues, predominantly surrounding production and waste, fronted by the fast-fashion industry which produces 1 billion garments and 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent each year, has caused some of the biggest earthquakes in the fashion industry.
These issues that plague the fashion industry are complex and interlinking, all of which necessitates their exploration. This mini-investigatory series will get to the heart of the fashion industry, asking questions like:
• What is the reality behind natural and synthetic materials?
• Are fast fashion brands profiting at the expense of the environment and the world’s most vulnerable people?
• And as we set sail on this new fashion voyage, are we headed for a sustainable and responsible future in fashion, if one awaits?
These questions are tough and the answers are not easy, but in today’s world where transparency and trust are key, we must explore the truth about fashion.
Opening this three-part series with an exploration into the reality of natural materials, and the difference between natural materials and synthetic alternatives, what better position to start than from the very beginning of fashion production with sourcing.
The sourcing of fashion materials, natural or synthetic, is a hotly contested subject with many burning consumer questions, including:
• Where have my clothes come from?
• Who made my clothes?
• And at what cost to the planet are my clothes?
Ethical and Sustainable?
Today, the sourcing of materials and their impact on the environment is important to consumers who want to feel confident that what they are wearing is both ethically and sustainably sourced. Ensuring clothing is ethically and sustainably sourced should be difficult for brands, as these two tropes - ethical and sustainable - are often in conflict. However, brands find it surprisingly easy to market themselves in this way.
The first reason why fashion brands marketing themselves as both ethical and sustainable is tricky is because there is no universal definition of either. What one person may deem ethical or sustainable may not mirror another person's definition.
For example, vegan consumers (who represent approximately 3% of the world’s population according to leading vegan researchers) may not deem animal-derived products - a fur coat, leather bag, cashmere sweater or meat – as ethical or sustainable. They would rather consume faux-leather and faux-fur products which are made from plastics, a derivative of petroleum – an oil-based product which is by nature unsustainable and unethical to other consumers.
Ensuring clothing is ethically and sustainably sourced should be difficult ... However, brands find it surprisingly easy to market themselves in this way.
Let’s take another example. An argument on one hand may be that plastic fashion has not caused harm to animals through production - hence the popular term “vegan and cruelty-free”. However, the counter argument is that plastic is not biodegradable, and at best can only ever be indefinitely recycled. It will need constant transformation through the use of more harmful chemicals, damaging the environment and affecting wildlife later down the line during its short life-cycle.
These two rather simple examples demonstrate how debates surrounding ethics and sustainability, while often used in the same sentence, are complex and not always working in parallel.
In fact, ethics and sustainability present an ironic paradox in fashion. Since fashion is about creating new things, with each new season high fashion, high street and online brands releasing one new collection minimum, it’s actually impossible for fashion brands to be completely sustainable or even environmentally neutral. Which begs the question: are brands using these fashionable terms for good PR?
SEE ALSO: Fur is a sustainable natural resource. Truth About Fur.
Consumers Demanding Accountability
Unpicking this dichotomy further, while ethical and sustainable sourcing has been a focus point for brands for decades, it has only entered the zeitgeist in recent years due to household names being exposed for sourcing malpractice, questionable supply chains, and contributions to global exploitation and climate issues.
A well-known example of this is sportswear manufacturing giant Nike. Since the 1970s, Nike has been attacked for its use of sweatshops, the term used to describe long-hours and low-wages factories in developing countries used by big conglomerates to produce cheap products, ultimately creating greater profits. Nike experienced rapid growth after moving production overseas with record-breaking profit margins. But as this was at the expense of a vulnerable labour force, notably young women in southeast Asia, Nike began to face waves of consumer backlash. Following this, in the 1990s, Nike was forced to introduce a more transparent and ethical supply chain. This is an example of brands adopting consumer concerns not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to in order to survive.
However, it’s not only fast-fashion retailers like Nike who have had to answer questions regarding sourcing and revise their position. The luxury fashion sector has also had to face growing consumer demands head on, with the fur industry facing its biggest attack yet.
In a bid to answer consumer concerns, sustainability strategies have become commonplace in the fashion industry, with luxury umbrella juggernauts LVMH and Kering among those adopting them. However, while the term "sustainability" is this season's must-have, according to the Global Fashion Agenda around half of the fashion industry have not yet taken any action on sustainability whatsoever. Instead, the term has been, and is being, used as a self-serving marketing tool to drive sales and good PR.
But, while this may be the motivation for most, this has not been the approach of the fur trade.
SEE ALSO: Fur-free Gucci policy contradicts company's "sustainability" claims. By Alan Herscovici, Truth About Fur.
Certification and Traceability
For decades, the fur trade has been at the centre of media attention regarding the sourcing of natural fur, in particular the methods by which fur farms are managed and fur is harvested for fashion. Yet while high animal welfare is the reality of fur farming, even when compared to other animal-based industries including the food and dairy industries, the reality is not always accurately reported. But why?
The media have a large role in shaping public consciousness, often backed by sensationalist and extremist "animal rights" groups, and bear huge responsibility for the spread of misinformation. Nonetheless, the fur industry has responded to sourcing concerns in a huge way, wanting to reassure and instill confidence in consumers of fur products with its high levels of standards and welfare. It’s for this reason that the fur industry, which is already regulated at government, independent scientific and auction house levels, including the European WelFur program, is introducing the world’s first industry-wide certification and traceability program in 2020, called FurMark.
FurMark, which has the backing of luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Kering, will give consumers of natural fur products confidence that the fur they are purchasing comes from a certified supplier with the highest level of animal welfare. This will include certified farms across Europe and North America and wild fur deriving from government-regulated North American conservation programs. This means, unlike plastic fashion brands, FurMark will present consumers with a clear step-by-step supply chain including where the fur was farmed, dressed and dyed, auctioned, manufactured, and retailed. This level of transparency is unrivalled not only at company level, but industry too.
SEE ALSO: North American fur trade - Ahead of the curve on traceability. By Derek Martel, Fur Institute of Canada.
Natural Materials a Staple of Circular Economy
The narrative when it comes to material sourcing within the fashion industry is a clear one.
Since the 1980s and '90s, when a large number of major fashion and sportswear brands outsourced their production to developing countries, questions surrounding the production of fashion grew in parallel with supply chains becoming more complex and foggy. It’s this which ultimately led to a spike in consumers demanding to know the origin of the goods they consume, something that is now standard practice.
However, while supply chains have become clearer than ever before, the materials and their effects on the environment have remained the same, with natural materials being a staple of the circular economy and plastic materials helping destroy the planet.
Yet, this isn’t the narrative of vegans, animal rights campaigners, or the media at large. In fact, according to vegans, the world's consumption of animal-based products (food, clothing, cosmetics, fuels) is redundant and archaic.
However, across all cultures, from millennials in China to the world’s Jewish community and the black communities of the US, fur is not outdated, nor is it only an economic signifier of wealth, but it is a material with heritage and deep social and religious meaning.
Fur is entrenched in many people’s beliefs and everyday lives. With the growing standards of fur sourcing, and the implementation of FurMark in 2020, the fur industry can pride itself on being ethical and sustainable – something many brands promise but ultimately do not deliver.
Recent proposals by Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now New York city councilors to ban fur sales should not only…
Recent proposals by Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now New York city councilors to ban fur sales should not only worry furriers who risk losing their jobs and businesses. These proposals should be a matter of grave concern to anyone who values living in a free, fair and tolerant society.
There are so many things wrong about the proposed bans on fur sales that it is hard to know where to begin, but let’s look at six of the most important problems:
1. These proposals to ban fur sales are a flagrant example of arbitrary government infringement on fundamental human rights. No one is forced to wear fur, and animal activists are free to campaign against the fur trade, but this does not give them the right to impose their personal beliefs on others. After decades of anti-fur campaigning, many people still clearly want to buy fur. The activist response is to seek legislation that would take away our right to choose for ourselves. This should have alarm bells ringing on all sides of the political spectrum!
2. It is illogical and discriminatory to consider banning fur sales when 95% of Americans eat meat and wear leather. Of course, PETA and other “animal rights” groups that are lobbying to ban fur sales are equally opposed to any use of animals, even for food. But most North Americans do not accept this extreme view; most of us believe that humans do have a right to use animals for food, clothing and other purposes, so long as these animals are treated responsibly. There is no justification for banning fur sales while hundreds of millions of cows, pigs and sheep, and several billion chickens, are killed each year for food in North America. Even philosopher Peter Singer stated in his landmark Animal Liberation – the book that launched the animal-rights movement – that it is completely hypocritical to campaign against the fur trade while most Americans continue to eat meat, eggs, fish and dairy.
3. As a society we do, of course, sometimes restrict personal choice, but only for very important reasons. To ensure that animals will be there for us in the future, for example, we ban trade in endangered species. But endangered species are never used in the fur trade; all the furs we use today are raised on farms or culled from abundant wildlife populations. This is assured by state, national and international regulations. Animal welfare must also be respected -- and decades of scientific research and government regulations ensure that fur today is produced responsibly and humanely. Trapping in North America is regulated by state (in Canada, provincial) wildlife authorities, in accordance with ISO standards and the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards. Fur farms are being inspected and certified to ensure compliance with codes of practice developed by veterinarians and animal scientists. There is simply no credible evidence that fur animals are treated less respectfully than other animals we use for food or clothing.
4. Wildlife populations often must be culled to protect property and human (and animal) health, whether or not we use their fur. Overpopulated beavers flood homes, farms and roads; raccoons and foxes spread rabies and other diseases; coyotes are the main predators of lambs and calves – and now attack pets and even people in urban areas; predators must also be managed to protect sea turtle eggs and other endangered species; and the list goes on. But if we must cull some of these animals, surely it’s more ethical to use the fur than to throw it away.
5. The fur trade supports livelihoods and cultures, especially in rural and remote regions where alternate employment may be hard to find. We all care about nature, but most of us now live in cities; indigenous and other trappers are our eyes and ears on the land, the people who monitor wildlife on a daily basis and can sound the alarm when nature is threatened. Fur farms provide employment in regions where the soil is too poor for other agriculture, helping to support rural communities. Fur artisans maintain handicraft skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. In this age of mass-production, each fur garment and accessory is still made individually, by hand. The fur trade maintains a range of remarkable skills and knowledge, a part of our human heritage that should be respected and encouraged, not persecuted with bans based on hateful and misleading propaganda.
6. Finally – and certainly not least – fur apparel is a long-lasting, natural material that is recyclable and completely biodegradable. After many decades of use, your fur can be thrown into the garden compost where it returns to the Earth. By contrast, most clothing today is made from petroleum-based synthetics that do not biodegrade. Instead, these synthetics leach thousands of plastic micro-particles into our waterways every time they are washed – plastic that is now being found in oysters and other marine life. It is bizarre at a time when we are trying to reduce our use of plastic – for example, by banning the use of plastic bags and water bottles – that some cities would even consider banning a long-lasting, recyclable and biodegradable natural material like fur!
As this quick review shows, recent proposals to ban fur sales are anything but “progressive”. They would unjustifiably usurp our right to use a sustainably produced, natural and biodegradable clothing material. They are arbitrary and discriminatory, especially in a society where most people eat meat and wear leather. They are completely unjustified because the modern fur trade is extremely well-regulated to ensure environmental sustainability and the responsible treatment of animals. And they would unfairly attack the livelihoods and cultures of thousands of people who maintain heritage craft skills and a close relationship with the land.
Again: no one is forced to wear fur. But everyone should be concerned about these misguided proposals to take away our right to make up our own minds about very personal and complex ethical choices.
What you can do to help! Make your voice heard at: www.ShoppersRights.org
One of the most frustrating aspects of the current fur debate is the lack of any real facts or serious…
One of the most frustrating aspects of the current fur debate is the lack of any real facts or serious analysis in most media reports and public discussion.
For years, activists have circulated images of injured animals to support their claim that fur farming should be banned. This is the logical equivalent of showing photos of gruesome car crashes to argue for the elimination of motorized transport. But pictures speak louder than words - especially in a 164-character universe. So fur is often associated with animal cruelty, with little understanding or recognition of government regulations, industry standards, and all the scientific work that’s been done over the past 40 years to promote humane practices in the trade.
More recently, anti-fur campaigning has spawned an even more simplistic “ethical” argument: we shouldn’t use animals for fur because we now have man-made textiles to keep us warm. Conversely, because no animals are killed (at least not directly) to make synthetics, faux is now frequently dubbed as “ethical fur”.
Vegans Say We're Evil
This line of thinking (or non-thinking) has been encouraged by the recent wave of militant veganism, promoting the notion that any use of animals is morally indefensible. According to this emerging vegan doctrine, if those of us who continue to consume meat and other animal products are not outright evil, we are certainly guilty of moral sloth for failing to recognize the impact of our actions.
This line of argument was evident in a recent opinion piece published in La Presse, Quebec’s most important daily newspaper. Teacher and children’s writer Annie Vintze acknowledged that fur is warm and beautiful, and that she herself once would have worn it without question. Recently, however, her adult daughter made her understand that wearing fur makes us “complicit in animal suffering”. If we’re not ready to kill our pet dogs and cats for fur, she asks, why is it okay to kill coyotes and foxes?
Vintze counselled patience with those of us who have not yet seen the light. Rather than criticism, she suggests, fur wearers need gentle encouragement to reflect upon the evil of our ways. What was most striking about her 600-word condemnation of fur was the complete lack of interest in, or consideration of, the real ecological and animal-welfare contributions of the modern fur trade. That there are non-animal alternatives is assumed to be reason enough for rejecting fur.
In response, I sent the following letter to La Presse. It has not yet been published, but I thought some of the arguments might be useful next time you find yourself in a discussion about the ethics of fur.
SEE ALSO: Is it ethical to wear fur? from the website of Truth About Fur.
* * *
Fur – An Ethical Choice!
While acknowledging that fur is beautiful and part of our Quebec winter heritage, Annie Vintze argues that we should no longer wear it because we now have synthetic materials to keep us warm, materials that don’t involve the killing of animals.
A review of the facts, however, suggests that fur is still an ethical choice for those who care about protecting nature.
Fact: Many fur animal populations must be controlled even if we didn’t use fur. Coyotes that provide fur trim for our parkas are rapidly expanding their range and numbers across North America. They are the main predator of lambs and calves on farms, and are now attacking pets and even people in cities, a clear sign of overpopulation. Over-populated raccoons spread rabies; beavers flood property, roads and fields; muskrats undermine stream banks; and the list goes on.
SEE ALSO: Reasons we trap, from the website of Truth About Fur.
Fact: We have changed the natural environment in many ways, so now we must take responsibility for maintaining a balance between wildlife and available habitat. Keeping wildlife populations within the limits their habitat can support helps to ensure more stable and healthy wildlife populations. But if we have to kill some animals, surely it is more ethical to use their fur than to waste it?
Fact: Most wild species produce more young than their habitat can support to maturity. Trapping is strictly regulated to ensure that we use only part of this natural surplus. This is an excellent example of “the sustainable use of nature”, a central conservation principle promoted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Fact: Canada is the world leader in research to develop humane trapping methods, work that provided the scientific basis for the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS).
Fact: Fur is now also produced on family-run farms. Farmed mink and foxes are fed left-overs from our own food production, the parts of chicken, pigs, and fish that we don’t eat. The animals’ manure, soiled straw bedding, and carcasses are composted to produce organic fertilizers to restore the soil - completing the agricultural nutrient cycle.
Fact: Farmed fur animals receive excellent nutrition and care; this is the only way to produce the high quality of fur for which North America is known.
Most important from a consumer perspective, fur is remarkably warm, durable and long-lasting. Unlike most clothing, a fur coat can be restyled as fashions change. And fur is biodegradable: after decades of use, you can throw it into the garden compost.
By contrast, the synthetics proposed by animal activists are generally made from petroleum, a non-renewable, highly polluting, and non-biodegradable material. Recent research is revealing that these synthetics leach micro-particles of plastic every time they are washed - plastic that passes into our waterways and marine life, and is now even being found in bottled water.
Some people, of course, choose not to use any animal products, even for food. This is a matter of personal choice that we all can respect.
But for the 95% of Canadians who eat meat and believe that humans do have a right to use animals - so long as this is done responsibly and sustainably - fur is not only warm and beautiful, it is also a responsible and ethical clothing choice.
There is a saying that the only things we all have in common are birth, death, and taxes. If there…
There is a saying that the only things we all have in common are birth, death, and taxes. If there is a fourth thing common to every human being on the planet, it is that human lives depend on killing animals. This is true for hunters, trappers, animal-rights activists, vegans, and everyone else, regardless of where we live, our cultural differences, or our lifestyle choices. I don’t say this out of callousness or for shock value; rather, to put every one of us on the same page, in the same common history book of our species. If only for a moment.
I would like to think we can all have the humility and honesty to acknowledge the fact that human life depends on the death of animals, despite how uncomfortable we may be with this truth. To that end, I won’t spend time going over the various ways that human civilizations and settlements displace wildlife and affect habitat. Many of us do our best to reduce our direct and indirect impacts on the natural world, but close as they may come, these impacts will never reach zero. None of us is exempt from the effects of human civilization on wildlife. The task as I see it is not so much to accept or refute this fact, but rather to reflect on our own understandings of it and what it means to have a relationship with animals that involves death.
One of the most common points of disagreement in conversations about animal ethics centers on the consumptive uses of animals. Concerns over the treatment of both wild and domestic animals and their use for food, fur, and other products is an important conversation and one that I believe should be of highest ethical importance to human beings; however, we often bring a set of unstated and embedded assumptions to these discussions that need to be examined if we are to ever truly understand our own ethics, have productive conversations with others, and be effective at conservation.
Reflecting on Foundational Concepts
One of the underlying assumptions that we need to critically reflect on in discussions over the use of animals is the very concept of killing. Our individual and collective understanding of the moral defensibility in killing animals and the nature of the human-animal relationship that is established through an interaction that involves killing are informed by our views of death itself.
In discussing the ethics around the use of animals, we must be thoughtful to the fact that understandings of central concepts such as death and killing are not universal. Cultures throughout the world have vastly different understandings of what it means to die, what happens after death, the relationship between life and death, and therefore what it means on a deep ethical level to kill an animal. Therefore, we cannot approach discussions with the assumption that we all understand the moral foundations of the topic in the same way. More importantly, we must be conscious not to assume that our own culturally-grounded way of understanding these concepts is correct. To approach conversations of such ethical gravity in that way is to demonstrate a sense of cultural centrism that has proven dangerous to both human cultures and ecological systems in the past.
It is possible that some of us have never really taken the time to deeply reflect on our own relationship with the death of wild animals. For the majority of the world that lives in urban centers and will never be personally involved in killing an animal, thinking about this may never be a necessity. In his examination of humanity’s relationship with nature and our own natural history, the author J.B. MacKinnon in The Once and Future World poignantly describes watching a grizzly bear feed on an elk calf. MacKinnon reflects on nature’s experience with death: “springtime in Yellowstone is not the season of gambolling fox kits ... but of the hungry bear and wary bison. Of death, that ordinary horror”. Killing is all around us all the time; whether and how we choose to understand that fact of life on a primal and philosophical level is our choice. MacKinnon goes on to suggest that “to endure among other species, you must experience the world as a place you share with them”. If we wish to share the world with wild creatures and natural processes, we owe it to ourselves to engage with them on their terms.
Consider the fact that most modern human beings eat next to nothing that is hunted or gathered from the terrestrial surface of the earth. This is an outcome that would strike our ancestors as bizarre if not apocalyptic, and yet it can’t be said to be the product of choice. We drifted to this point, generation by generation.
J.B. MacKinnon in "The Once and Future World"
Let me clear about what this is not. I dislike dead-end arguments in discussions about ethics. It might be tempting to dispute the suggestion that death and killing are equal parts culturally contingent concepts and natural parts of the world, as simply a hunter’s way of justifying his own actions. That has been suggested to me before and I will humour that idea, but it is far more complex than that. Human ethics change over time to incorporate new ideas and knowledge and this changing is precisely what keeps ethics strong and meaningful. Therefore, the suggestion that any single argument can settle an ethical debate is unconvincing at best and suspicious at worst. This is not a claim that killing wildlife is morally defensible because “we have always done it”. I don’t believe that historical precedent justifies continued practice. However, in the same way that history does not justify the present, neither can it be disregarded as irrelevant. So I do think that the long history of interaction between humans and wildlife that has always involved a predator-prey relationship makes the conversation worth having in light of that history and not in exclusion of it. Cultures and belief systems are built upon shared experiences and give rise to knowledge systems and worldviews that are rooted in the places of those experiences. It is the diversity of these cultures that contributes to different understandings of what it means to kill an animal and our conversations on the ethics of killing and using animals must include space for the wide variety of cultural views that exist in the world.
Our evaluation of the ethics in killing animals for our own uses is bound to be informed in some measure by our understanding of what death means and the subsequent emotions we attach to dying and being dead. It is helpful to consider examples of different cultural understandings of death. These contrasting worldviews around death mean that understandings about the relationship enacted with an animal in the act of killing it can also be very different. Bear in mind that I am highlighting two examples here and that the diversity of human cultural perspectives is nearly as wide and deep as the biodiversity of the natural world itself.
The dread of something after death, / The undiscover’d country
"Hamlet" by William Shakespeare
The Reverend Charles A. Curran, Professor at Loyola University of Chicago, discusses an understanding of death informed by Judaeo-Christian traditions. Curran explains that in Christian worldviews, death “immediately invokes in us the emotion of fear”. This fear of death is not so much a fear of the physical process of dying, but rather “the notion of the beyond that the word ‘death’ brings to us, because its fear is a fear of the beyond”. This fear is also related to the gravity of having to weigh the morality of our lives and what Curran describes as an “extreme ego anxiety about passing into nothingness” – the fear of irrelevance and being forgotten. There are other more obvious teachings in Christianity about what killing means for the morality of our own lives.
A Judaeo-Christian view of death has been imprinted on some of Western culture’s most influential pieces of art and literature, and it is perhaps only natural that our feelings around our own death would be imparted onto animals when we consider their death. Daniel E. Van Tassel, Professor of English at Muskingum College, notes “the stamp of such Christian views of death” in the “expression of fear at the imminence of death” among a number of Shakespeare’s characters. Van Tassel cites three reasons to fear death in Judaeo-Christian traditions: we fear losing the enjoyment of life and worldly pleasures, the emotional and physical pain that comes with death, and the eternal misery after death. In considering how such a culturally-dominant, if latent and subconscious, understanding of death may impact our view of killing animals, we can certainly identify in animal-rights and other anti-hunting/trapping campaigns references to the second fear of death: fear about the pain and suffering that killing brings. In this fear we see MacKinnon’s characterization of death, “that ordinary horror”.
Like other northern hunting peoples, many Yukon First Nation people conceive of hunting as a reciprocal social relationship between humans and animals.
In a book chapter I have frequently returned to in discussions over human-animal relationships, Paul Nadasdy, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Cornell University, discusses the contrasts between Western and Yukon First Nations’ understandings of the concept of wildlife management, focusing particularly on contrasting notions of ownership and control between cultures. Within a Yukon First Nations worldview, humans and animals interact on the basis of a reciprocal social relationship defined by the need to uphold certain responsibilities. Humans hunt wildlife but do so within the context of specific practices designed to maintain the relationship, practices that vary between cultures, but “commonly include the observance of food taboos, ritual feasts, and prescribed methods for disposing of animal remains, as well as injunctions against overhunting and talking badly about, or playing with, animals”. Maintaining the social relationship one has with animals is of utmost importance and in this particular cultural worldview, involves killing.
There is an element of control and agency that is important in understanding the contrast between different worldviews. In a Western worldview, humans are most commonly positioned above and in control of nature: the world is here to be used by humans. In, for example, a Yukon First Nations worldview, animals have agency and can choose not to present themselves to human hunters. Humans must therefore fulfill certain social obligations towards animals and these obligations are often carried out through hunting. The concept of killing and what it means to kill an animal is thus conceived of quite differently in a Yukon First Nations context than one dominated by Western knowledge and cultural traditions.
The idea that there exists a plurality of knowledges informed by one’s culture must accompany us into ethical conversations and decision-making around the use of animals. We must remember that in many cultures, a context of respect and gratitude is the very the foundation of how humans have come to understand a relationship with animals that involves killing.
I am not a religious person and I would not even suggest that I am spiritual. I have come to understand my actions and morality on my own terms and I have tried to inform that understanding as much as possible by lessons in nature, though inspiration for this understanding can come from many places. I want to make it clear that caring deeply about wildlife is not dependent on religious or spiritual guidance; I have thought and felt deeply about both the individual animals I have killed and about the populations and species of which those individuals were a part. When I kill an animal, there is an intense and undeniable connection with that individual – from the moment I first see it to every single time I cook a portion of it – and there is also a connection with that animal that feels more historic, a sense of shared history on the landscape. Animal-rights campaigns often focus on individual animals that have been given human names. This kind of anthropomorphism often loses the ability to situate the relationship between human and animals on an evolutionary scale. For me, it is precisely the simultaneous feelings of intense personalization with an individual animal and a depersonalization with the awareness that there is a deeper historic interaction that we are a part of that gives the encounter so much meaning.
One thing that many of us can agree on is that healthy ecosystems and wildlife populations are critical for the survival of our species and this planet. We might also agree that maintaining healthy ecosystems and wildlife populations depends on human appreciation and valuation of those places and species and in order for humans to care about and take care of the natural world, they need a personal relationship with it. It may be that some wish to redefine the foundation of this relationship in a way that reflects changing social and cultural norms, but this cannot be taken for granted and this new foundation cannot be laid without conscious and thoughtful reflection, otherwise we risk losing the historic relationships within which both humans and animals have mutually evolved.
We may personally disagree with particular conservation policies or strategies, but it is imperative that we maintain our connections with animals and understand that there are cases where this connection takes place through an interaction that involves death. I personally consider ethical concerns about animal welfare as one of our most important considerations in killing animals. However, when engaging in discussions with one another over the ethics of using animals, we need to be conscious of the foundational assumptions on which these conversations are built. We need to identify and critically reflect on the culturally specific concepts we bring to our decision-making around killing and understand and respect that ethics are a sliding scale throughout the world.
In doing so, we may find that misunderstandings and disagreements run deeper than the specific applications and policies we find ourselves debating and that we gain much more from engaging with a plurality of ethical perspectives than from disregarding them.
Animal-rights activists argue that we are not morally justified to kill animals for any purpose, and certainly not for products…
Animal-rights activists argue that we are not morally justified to kill animals for any purpose, and certainly not for products they consider to be non-essential, such as fur. But this view of morality may say more about the activists' understanding of society, of nature and of their own unique place within the big scheme of things than it does about people who produce or wear fur.
This thought came to me just before Christmas during a moving performance of Handel’s Messiah, by Montreal’s Metropolitan Orchestra and Choir with star conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Handel’s magnificent oratorio was premiered in Dublin, in 1742, under the direction of the composer; the beautiful libretto by Charles Jennens (1700-1773) is drawn from Old and New Testament texts.
"All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way."
– Isaiah 53:6 (from libretto of Handel’s Messiah)
The music is transcendental, but my thoughts returned to more earthly matters as the choir sang the verse: "... we have turned every one to his own way." Nine words that neatly sum up the guiding philosophy of modern Western society.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not romanticizing the time when the individual was required – often ruthlessly – to conform to the demands of family, clan, nation or religion. But the fact is that we, in our privileged Western societies, have ventured into uncharted waters: for the first time in human history, individual freedom and personal fulfilment are widely considered to be the most important goals, the ultimate "good".
We no longer accept that our marriage partners be chosen by our families, or that what we eat and how we behave be dictated by tradition or a parish priest. Today, each of us claims the right to make our own decisions. The individual is king.
What does this have to do with the radical shift in thinking proposed by animal-rights philosophers? Maybe a lot. Because, above all, believers in animal rights assert that the rights of each animal must be recognised as inviolable. It is the individual animal, not the population or species that is important, according to this view. And this has far-reaching implications. Let’s see how.
Livestock and Humans Depend on Each Other
Most of us believe that humans have a right to use animals for food and other purposes, so long as animal populations are not diminished and species are not endangered. This is known as “sustainable use”. In other words, we eat chickens, but we don’t eat them all. Individual chickens are killed and eaten by individual humans – who will, in turn, one day themselves be eaten by worms, bacteria and other organisms – but both chickens and humans continue. In fact, with North Americans annually consuming some three billion chickens, and billions more eggs, one could argue that both chickens and humans are now very dependent on each other for survival.
A concern for animal welfare complements and deepens our sustainable-use values by acknowledging the individuals involved in this species-level symbiosis. The fact that individual animals die to provide for our needs implies, we believe, a responsibility to protect these animals from unnecessary suffering. In this sense, “animal welfare” seeks to balance the interests of groups and individuals.
The animal-rights philosophy, however, makes a quantum leap: the interests of individual animals are suddenly all that matter. According to animal-rights theorists, the individual chicken’s will-to-life is morally non-negotiable and irrevocable, no matter how useful their proteins may be for the health and well-being of humans – or, for that matter, for the survival of chickendom.
In other words, the animal-rights doctrine perfectly reflects our celebration of the individual in modern Western societies. And perhaps this explains, at least in part, why the animal-rights philosophy has considerable appeal in Western societies, especially among younger people.
Of course, our glorification of the individual is far from universal. Even today, most people live in societies where the individual has less autonomy, where their dependence on the group is more explicit. The moral force or “truth” of animal-rights arguments probably seem less evident in such societies.
And isn’t the dependence of the individual on the group a fundamental reality in all human societies? We live in cities, speak languages, use technologies, and have our spirits lifted by music that were all created by others, often people who are no longer with us.
Rights Not Rooted in Nature
A more profound challenge to the “truth” of the animal-rights philosophy comes from the fact that nature doesn’t show much consideration for individuals. In nature, individuals are short-lived and expendable; it is populations and species that continue.
This ecological truth does not diminish the importance of respecting human rights, but it reminds us that such rights are not rooted in nature or universal truth; they are created by human societies.
What is rooted in nature, however, is the dependence of all animals on other species – especially for food. Like it or not, only the living cells of other organisms can provide us with sustenance. No philosopher or activist can change this fundamental fact of our existence.
Nature is not moral or immoral, it just is. But humans do develop codes of morality, precisely because we live in groups and need each other. Without moral codes we would indeed be lost sheep. But if the animal-rights insistence on each animal’s irrevocable right-to-life is not defensible, what moral code regulates our use of animals?
Our Morality Towards Animals
When it comes to our relationship with animals, our moral code includes four main precepts. Two have already been mentioned: we should use only part of the surpluses that nature provides (“sustainability”), and we should protect the animals we use from unnecessary suffering (“animal welfare”). The other two moral precepts governing our relationship with animals are that we should not use animals for frivolous purposes (“important use”), and we should use as much of the animal as possible (“no waste”).
As I have explained in a previous article, the modern fur trade does respect all four of these important moral precepts. The use of fur, when it is responsibly and sustainably produced as it is today, is indeed morally justifiable, because it balances the needs of species and individuals in a way that is consistent with the way our world really works.
It is animal activists who are lost, who “have turned every one to his own way”, because their fundamentalist philosophy considers only the individual. In fact, as the great humanitarian and animal lover Albert Schweitzer once wrote: insisting that we harm no other life is not a solution to the moral problem that living beings kill and eat each other to survive – it is pretending that there is no problem.